Believe it or not, so many people are puzzled by The Salvation Army and often question, what exactly do we do in the community; what role do we play? Everyone is familiar with the American Red Cross because of their constant blood drives and disaster services. Many know of the work behind Habitat for Humanity; they build homes for low income families or Second Harvest, they feed the hungry across America. But the mystery still remains as to what does that shield mean, why is it an Army and what do they do to help those in need.
Question no more, we would like to help you out with this and provide you with a quick history on “The Army” and it’s functions within the social services community and as a faith based organization. Now I’m going to be paraphrasing; didn’t want to copy word from word out of an old piece of literature that can be found within an encyclopedia or on our International headquarters site. I want to explain what we do in my own words. After serving over 4 years as a staff person I have had the privilege of serving and seeing with my own eyes the selfless and loving acts of kindness displayed by The Salvation Army and thus feel free to share with you.
The Salvation Army was founded in 1865 in London, England by William Booth, a Methodist minister. Booth was very upset by the way the impoverished were treated by the “churched” community so he decided to bring the gospel to the homeless; the destitute, by way of “Soup, Soap and Salvation.” Booth was quoted as saying, “that no man ever accepted Christ on an empty stomach” so the idea of feeding and cleaning up folks then preaching the gospel was started and paved the way for our social services as well as our churches or “corps” as they are often referred to. Booth was very impressed with the infrastructure of the military and because we were fighting for people’s souls; The Salvation Army was birthed! The Salvation Army soon hopped across the pond and landed in the Americas in 1880 and has been growing strong ever since with it’s presence in almost 120 countries!
The Salvation Army is a faith based organization as exemplified in it’s mission statement, ” an international movement, is an evangelical part of the universal Christian Church. Its message is based on the Bible. Its ministry is motivated by the love of God. Its mission is to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination.” In other words, we are designed to not only offer assistance with those seeking food, clothing, etc. but our main focus is to preach the gospel and to let people know of God’s love for them.
Just like the military, we have “Officers” the folks in uniform that you may see ringing a bell at Christmas time or conducting an interview during times of disaster. We have Majors, Captains, Sergeants, etc and these are not only administrators over their church or city command but they are ordained pastors as well. Very neat indeed so at a moments notice if anyone is in need of prayer, they’re ready and so very willing! Please note, you don’t have to be an officer to be a part of The Salvation Army. It’s not an exclusive club where you have to join their church, so many folks from different backgrounds and spiritual beliefs find themselves employed at The Salvation Army because of their heart to serve mankind and make a difference in this world.
Now, what is it that we do? Here in Nashville for example, we have a strong Christmas presence with our kettles; bell ringing and our Angel Tree program. We also have a feeding program where we feed the homeless on Main Street in East Nashville every Tuesday morning and every Friday night under the Jefferson Street bridge. In Nashville we also have a Transitional Housing program for families, single women and single men. Clients can stay for up to 2 years, there is a day care on site for their children and they must maintain full time employment or be in school. We also offer a Community Center for neighborhood kids to attend both after school and during our summer camp and participate in various sports, arts/crafts, music and bible studies. When disaster strikes, we are ready; whether it’s here in town or down on the Gulf Coast, our 16 foot mobile disaster feeding unit or canteen is ready to head down and with the power of staff and volunteers, feed thousands of victims and first responders. We have just completed our first full year of Life Skills Learning, which includes money management classes and GED classes for those who are seeking that next step in their life and are eager for change. Last but not least we offer an Emergency Services Center which is designed to assist those who need food boxes, clothing or furniture vouchers and rent/mortgage assistance.
Whew…there’s a lot going on and honestly, there are little ministries that are going on constantly as The Salvation Army sees the need. This can happen as part of our outreach from our local corps or just a staff person who feels led to take a prayer walk around the neighborhood; asking God’s blessing over those who are hurting, lost and lonely.